Sigfrid KARG-ELERT (1877-1933)
The Complete Organ Works - volume 8
22 Leichte Pedalstudien, op.83 (1913) [42:31]
Symphonic Chorale Ach, Bleib mit Deiner Gnade, op.87 no.1 (1913) [8:30]
Symphonic Chorale Jesu, Meine Freude, op.87 no.2 (1913) [22:31]
Stefan Engels (organ)
rec. Marienkirche, Hansestadt Salzwedel, Germany, 30-31 March 2011. DDD
PRIORY PRCD 1063 [73:51] 

Though no great organist, the German composer Sigfrid Karg-Elert did write, alongside much else of quality, a lot of excellent music for the organ, both original works and transcriptions or arrangements. Now probably in the home straight, this is volume eight of Stefan Engels' complete recording on various organs for Priory, released concurrently with the seventh (PRCD 1062 - see review).
The works in this volume provide a broadly similar experience to Volume 6 (see review). The disc opens in similar fashion, with an ostensibly monolithic work running to three-quarters of an hour. Like the twelve items that make up the Sempre Semplice op.142, the 22 Leichte Pedalstudien op.83 are frequently slow and soft - sometimes very soft - in nature, creating an apt atmosphere of quiet contemplation. As is often the case, what a composer labels 'leicht' ('easy') is not necessarily so - there are many technical and indeed expressive challenges awaiting the organist, for all the surface straightforwardness.
There is more volume and overt drama, though only in places, in the virtuosic Symphonic Chorales of op.87, among Karg-Elert's finest organ works. No.2, though it too starts serenely (a simmering rather than raging 'Inferno'!), and continues along those lines for the Canzone middle movement, eventually turns more 'sulphurous' than its Bach-recalling subtitle might imply. Indeed, the work ends with a manual and pedal chord so massive that an additional foot is actually required! Throughout the work can be heard a much-iterated B-A-C-H motif.
At any rate, Karg-Elert's music is eminently accessible and likeable and should appeal to anyone who appreciates the harmonic language and formal innovation of the likes of Widor, Reger and Vierne.
Stefan Engels does another first-rate job here, bringing ample technique, stamina and understated expression to this excellent addition to a worthy series. He will doubtless be recalled by some for his two volumes of Marcel Dupré's organ music for Naxos in the Nineties (8.554210, 8.553920). Coincidentally, his Priory edition is in direct competition with that of fellow German Elke Völker on the Aeolus label, although she now lags behind - volume 6 of her series, subtitled 'Ultimate Organ Works', came out at the turn of the year (AE 10721). In price terms, neither set comes cheap, with the Priory discs generally to be had for around 10% less - although shopping around will in most cases iron out the differential.
Recording quality is as ever very good, with Priory managing to capture and balance the very softest sounds and the loudest chords. The huge neo-Romantic Furtwängler & Hammer organ at the Marienkirche in Salzwedel - pictured on the cover - only dates back to 1913, although it retains the beautiful Baroque façade of its predecessor, the damaged Joachim Wagner organ of 1749. Its latest restoration was completed in 2007. Incidentally, another impressive Furtwängler & Hammer can be heard on volume 5 - recorded at Verden Cathedral in Saxony (PRCD 869).
As always, the Priory booklet is a joy to read, with a long biography of the composer and as much again on the works heard in volume 8 by Anthony Caldicott, chairman of the not-as-useful-as-it-could-be Karg-Elert Archive, followed by a brief history of the church and organ by Engels, and the latter's full specification. There is also a biography and cheery photo of an avuncular-looking Engels, plus details of previous releases in the series. These CDs are not likely to win any prizes for design, but the rather lurid yellow is an improvement on the eye-unfriendly colour scheme of volume 7.
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Music that is eminently accessible and likeable played with ample technique, stamina and understated expression.